Female Winemakers Making History: Erica Stancliff

Updated: May 18, 2020

Erica Stancliff leaning against oak barrels. She is one of the female winemakers making history.

In the second of this three-part series, we’ll talk to Erica Stancliff and find out how wine has influenced her entire life. She is one of a small percentage of female winemakers in California, putting her stamp on the winemaking world.

Erica Stancliff: Winemaker

Erica Stancliff is the winemaker for Pfendler Vineyards which is located in the Petaluma Gap region of the Sonoma Coast in California. She is also the winemaker for her family winery, Trombetta Family Wines. Both wineries produce Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Although her initial experience was with Bordeaux style wines, she eventually found her calling with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Pursuing a Career in Wine

Erica grew up in California’s Russian River Valley surrounded by vineyards. Her parents were even home winemakers. As fate would have it, the family befriended a man named Paul Hobbs which changed things for all of them. In 1991, Paul decided to open a winery and employed Erica’s mother as the first employee. As an event planner, she focused on hospitality and even jumped in to help with the harvest.

It was this family friendship and a conversation between Erica and Paul, while walking the vineyards, that convinced Erica to pursue a career in wine. She enrolled in Enology (winemaking) at Fresno State and took an internship in Argentina where she learned how to produce Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, and Cabernet Franc. It was here that she learned the art of problem solving. She was involved at every stage of the winemaking process and learned how to identify the source of a problem and how to implement solutions to improve the wine.

When Erica returned to Napa Valley, she worked at several wineries that focused on Bordeaux varietals (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc). She worked all aspects from harvest to crush and fermentation to bottle. She worked for a time with wine testing. This involved testing and evaluating elements of wine. It also involved consulting; which tapped into her skills for identifying problems with wine and then providing solutions.

Through all of this experience, she realized she missed working on the actual production of wine. So, she shifted her focus and became the lead winemaker at two wineries.

Lead Winemaker

In 2010, her family decided to take their wine to consumers and partnered with their long-time friend, Paul Hobbs, to help launch their own label. The timing couldn’t have been better because Erica was ready for that lead winemaker role at her family winery.